Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Augustine Committee and their Report

The Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee led by former Lockheed Martin chief Norm Augustine turned in their final report October 22. They worked hard and had good, smart, dedicated people who did a good job. I don’t know how they were compensated, but it probably wasn’t enough. I’m profoundly grateful for their efforts.

They have some good recommendations. Many may not survive the political process: already representatives from places with major NASA spending are saying that it would be a terrible thing if anything was done that might result in less NASA spending where their constituents live.

And if we do the right thing there will be pain in various places. The Ares I launcher was more plausible when the that project began, but bringing it into operation will now cost a lot for a launcher that will at best fly only a few times: perhaps a dozen, perhaps less. US launchers already flying can carry similar payloads. They have convinced me that Ares I should be canceled. It will harder to convince voters who benefit directly from the survival of the program.

The committee makes a good argument that we will eventually return to our Moon, visit Near Earth Objects like asteroids and comets, the Martian moons Deimos and Phobos, and eventually Mars itself. Our Moon may not be the optimal first destination on the list.

Why Very Long Copyright Durations Are a Bad Idea.

What these guys said.

You might think, as a creator of intellectual content, that I'm in favor of having my copyright last until the Sun is a cold darker cinder. I'm not. There are real costs to us as a Society to keeping content out of the public domain for too long. The free availability of public domain works created when copyright law was more sane is a great boon to me. I love Google Books

Here's my modest proposal. Continue to accept the terms of the Berne Convention, but require individuals to renew every thirty years after original publication to maintain their rights. And allow corporations to do the same, but charge them a fee large enough that they only renew works that still have significant economic value to them. Disney can afford it.

Seven Reasons to Date a Medievalist

Unlocked Wordhoard lists compelling reasons to date a medievalist. Including, of course, our superior zombie apocalypse survival skills

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are We Wimps? Compared to Ancient Athenians?

Provocative anthropologist Peter McAllister says yes.

Athens employed 30,000 rowers who could all exceed the achievements of modern oarsmen.

The evidence for this can only be the failure of the modern trireme reconstruction Olympias to reach the cruising speed implied by classical authors for ancient triremes.

If we knew that Olympias was a perfect reproduction of an ancient trireme, then the argument might be valid. We don't.

Olympias was a plausible first effort at reconstructing an ancient trireme. The men responsible for the reconstruction now believe they can do better, tweaking some key details to give the rowers more room for a longer stroke while still fitting the surviving evidence. This exactly the sort of thing that experimental archaeology can teach us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Are We Wimps?

Are 21st c. men wimps compared to people "in the ancient past and even in the recent past"?. Peter McAllister, Australian anthropologist, says yes, in his book Manthropology and in this article in The Independent

Steve Muhlberger asks for informed commentary on the article while expressing some skepticism.

I won't say anything about the value of calculating the speed of prehistoric aboriginals from their fossilized trackways, except that it's probably pretty difficult without knowing with some precision how long the legs were of the person that left the footprints.

But this I can speak to:

Roman legions completed more than one-and-a-half marathons a day carrying more than half their body weight in equipment.

This is lazy stupidity on multiple levels. A marathon is a foot race, and currently covers a bit more than 26 miles. "One-and-a-half marathons" would be nearly forty miles. At a run.

The Roman legions did not cover distance at a run. They marched. Marching is much less tiring.

That said, I don't know why McAllister thinks legions routinely covered forty miles a day. I'm baffled.

Assuming that McAllister never noticed that the Roman mile is shorter than the English mile only gets you part of the way there. An Iter Iustum, an ordinary day's march on good roads, might cover 15-17 miles.

Vegetius tells us that the Romans trained by marching ten Roman miles out and the same back (about 18 English miles) but they only did it three times a month. It was a conditioning exercise, not a daily routine.

According to modern US Army doctrine, the average rate of march for trained infantry under favorable weather conditions is 2-1/2 mph over roads and 1 mph cross country. A normal foot march covers 20 miles per day.

Currently, US infantry on the march carries loads comparable to a Roman legionairy soldier.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Gladiatoria Fechtbuch

Medieval German fighting manuals can be frustrating. Typically you either have text without illustrations, or illustrations with minimal text (Talhoffer) or with no text at all (the earliest content in the Codex Wallerstein).

In the mid 15th c. Gladiatoria Fechtbuch , text and image often complement each other. The text explains that you should do thus and so, and the image presents the vital information that your left leg should be forward when you do it.

Hugh Knight has produced a translation of the text of the Gladiatoria Fechtbuch combined with a reproduction of the images. This work is a valuable resource for anyone who wants a better understanding of armored single combat in Germany in the middle of the 15th century.

Thirteen out of the 118 pages deal with unarmored combat, with long dueling shields, bucklers or staves. The rest discuss armored combat.

Combat with Spear and Targe

Here is a video of combat with Codex Wallerstein style targes and spear at our local SCA fighting practice. I built these for the pas de la Belle Pelerine at Pennsic 2009. I'm very pleased with the way these work: they give good protection for the armpit, shoulder and throat while allowing both hands to wield the spear.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Two Awesome Space Launch Visuals

A Delta IV Heavy lifts off. The camera lens that took this photo did not survive.

Progress M-03M launches in early morning darkness and climbs into sunlight. At about three minutes into the video you can see the four detached booster stages sparkling as they tumble.

Here's a somewhat longer version showing more footage from different cameras.

Here is the trail of the launcher seen from the side from a viewpoint in Kromtau, Northwest Kazakhstanin, where surprised and baffled Australian miners film it on their phone.

More Photos from the Pas de la Belle Pelerine

More photos from the recreation of the pas de la Belle Pelerine at Pennsic 2009 by Tasha.

An additional photo from Jan.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation's Medieval Event, October 17-18

This event in Media, PA has been canceled due to weather. Medieval living history goodness would have included La Belle Compagnie and yours truly. It has been rescheduled for November 13-15. La Belle Compagnie will be unable to attend on the rescheduled date.

Update: the rescheduled event has also been canceled due to weather

Monday, October 12, 2009

Another Thing I Learned from Petit Jehan de Saintré

When you have water brought for your guests to wash their hands, let it be warm rose water. It will give them great joy.

15,000 Badges and Ampullae

Kunera, late medieval badges and ampullae

Badges and ampullae are the material witnesses to the rich and fascinating visual world of the late Middle Ages.

Often only unique copies or – in rare instances – some duplicates of the same mould were passed down, even though the objects were mass-produced at the time. The material played a major part in the dissemination of imagery from the late twelfth century to the middle of the sixteenth century. From the middle of the fifteenth century, printing gradually took over. Depictions on badges and ampullae differ from Christ, Mary and the saints to utensils, plants and animals, literary and sexual subjects. In addition, the pilgrims’ souvenirs that were produced in one place and lost in another, give a perception of travel routes. Where did pilgrims go and how many miles did their travels cover? The website Kunera offers access to over 15.000 badges and ampullae of religious and profane subjects. The pilgrimage sites and the sites where the objects were found are mapped out visualizing the dissemination of the objects and the travel routes at a single glance.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fact and Fiction in Petit Jehan de Saintré

In chapter 55, a gentleman from Lombardy, the squire Galias of Mantua enters the story, wishing to perform a deed of arms. He was, the author believes, the same Galias of Mantua who later, as a renowned knight, fought against Jean le Maingre, (called Boucicaut) Marshal of France before the Lord of Padua. This was the son of the elder Boucicaut who is portrayed as Jehan's friend in the romance.

Now, Fiore dei Liberi, master of arms, writing in the early 15th c., records among his students Sir Galeaz or Galeaco of Mantua, who fought against the French knight Bucichardo, and the combat is also recorded as occurring in 1395 in the Cronaca carrarese.

So de la Sale wove the historical Galeaz of Mantua into his fictional work to give it greater verisimilitude, and was careful enough about the chronology to present his Galias as a squire rather than the renowned knight he would be when he fought at Padua.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Petit Jehan de Saintré

Steve Muhlberger posts Phil Paine's review of Petit Jehan de Saintré. I think Paine has misread the story on at least two points. Little Jehan doesn't go off to do deeds of arms when he is sixteen: his lady waits until he is twenty, and fully formed, before she encourages him to distinguish himself on the field. And when Jehan goes to fight the Saracens in Prussia, the geography and anthropology are not "somewhat vague". The author clearly had a fairly informed and detailed sense of where large Islamic armies might be raised, and where Prussia was. He knew he needed to set the fictional Christian victory somewhere on the borders of Christendom. He might have set it in, for example, Bulgaria, where clashes between the Christian and Islamic worlds were particularly plausible. Unfortunately, this theater was the site of a particularly notable Christian defeat at Nicopolis in 1396. Prussia was a setting where crusades happened but that wouldn't remind readers of that great defeat.

Of course, the politics and logistics of delivering enormous crusader and saracen armies to Prussia in the mid 14th century were challenging, which explains why neither actually happened.

Here is a somewhat frustrating 1862 English translation of the work. The translator has a tendency to omit many of the sections I'm most interested in. "The account of this combat is omitted." Thank you very much.

Updated: a recent translation, Jean de Saintre: A Late Medieval Education in Love and Chivalry, translates the work into lively and colloquial modern English, unlike the deliberately archaic style of the previous two English translations, and it translates content they omit.  The notes discuss how the novel mixes actual historical figures into the fictional romance.

Here is the the story in the original French.

The work is an early historical novel, set in the reign of John II of France about a century before it was written. The hero becomes a close friend of the historical Jean Boucicaut the elder. At thirteen little Jehan catches the eye of a noble young widow, who spends the next seven years training him into a suitable courtly paramour. She teaches him edifying maxims from Latin authors with a helpful translation, and gives him a reading list. She advises him how to spend largely but wisely on good clothes and horses, and on appropriate presents to gain the good will of others at court, and provides him with the funds to do it. At twenty she sends him off to win renown with deeds of arms, and advises him on the ceremonies and choice of opponents.

His martial career is described in great and generally plausible detail, although the customs are those of the 15th century rather than the 14th.

Eventually his lady transfers her affections to a worldly young abbot, large and muscular, who humiliates Jehan in a wrestling match. We learn that Jehan, although a successful warrior, has not been taught to wrestle, unlike wealthy monks like the abbot who "are adepts at the art, as at tennis, hurl-bat, pitch-bar, and every pastime of the sort. They are their only recreations when among themselves..."

Jehan later has his revenge on the abbot and his former lover with matter of fact cruelty that reminds me of Tirant lo Blanc. Like Tirant, Petit Jehan de Saintré combines chivalric and courtly ideals with frank sexuality and practical detail.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sense and Squamosity, by Jane Austen

Chapter XVI

" Dear, dear Norland," said Elinor, " probably looks much as it always does at this time of year—the woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves."

" Oh! " cried Marianne, " with what transporting sensations have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight."

" It is not every one," said Elinor, " who has your passion for dead leaves."

" No; my feelings are not often shared, not often understood. But sometimes they are."—As she said this, she sunk into a reverie for a few moments; but rousing herself again, " Now, Edward," said she, calling his attention to the prospect, " here is Barton valley. Look up it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills ! Did you ever see their equals? To the left is Barton Park, amongst those woods and plantations. You may see one end of the house. And there, beneath that farthest hill which rises with such grandeur, is the Barton Folly, with its angles simultaneously acute and obtuse."

" It is a beautiful country," he replied; " but these bottoms must be full of ichor in winter."

" How can you think of ichor, with such objects before you?"

" Because," replied he, smiling, " amongst the rest of the objects before me, I see a broad trail of ichor across the lane. And on either side of the lane some thing has broken through the underbrush on either side, perhaps twice the width of a common hay-wain, and yet proportioned as if such a wain was far, far broader at ground level than at its apex."

" How strange! " said Marianne to herself as she walked on.

In my Parallel Universe VI

Giants from France walk through Berlin, seeking each other.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

My Little Cthulu

You know you want one. And he wants you, too. But not in a good way.

And you can make your own. Remember to score and fold the paper carefully, so the angles are simultaneously acute and obtuse!